How to Create Character-Driven Officers

#cops #lawenforcement #servantofficer assumes positive intent character-driven officers heart of a servant intentionalleadership keepleadershipsimple simple Mar 15, 2022

I'm a cop. I was raised in a cop family. I became a cop as soon as I could at the age of 21 having been through the police cadet program prior to that and even serving as a dispatcher until I was old enough to carry the badge. I chose the profession because I truly enjoy helping and serving others from the youngest to the oldest among us. I also chose it because we live in a world that has bad people in it that are intent on hurting the well-meaning, average citizens who simply want to live their lives in peace.

The profession has been good to me. I rose through the ranks and became a chief at the very young age of 33 years and served as a chief executive for nearly 2 decades with 2 different agencies. I've watched the profession go through a variety of changes and evolutions - most for the better. The current situation is disconcerting to all of us who have and do wear the badge and it requires swift yet thoughtful action to reclaim what is an honorable profession.

First and foremost, I consider myself a leader both personally as a father, son, husband, and friend and professionally, where I've been a student of leadership, a practitioner of leadership and now an instructor and mentor to future leaders of our great profession.

I love my chosen profession and almost all those who serve, but as a leader and as someone with credibility with law enforcement, I feel compelled to share what I believe to be the most important changes every law enforcement leader can start making today to make the profession better and to make the lives of their officers better.

Not even the most ardent supporters of the police can defend the actions of the officers in the George Floyd case. This single act has pulled the pin on the hand grenade of racial injustice in America, along with a call for police to change how they use force and to be held more accountable.  Police should constantly review their policies and adjust to new standards of community expectations, but real change cannot be as instantaneous as the public expects. It will take courageous leadership, a new mindset, and meaningful training to truly meet the necessary change.

We cannot expect officers who have received years and years of use of force training to instantly change their reactions to a threat because public opinion has suddenly changed.  Especially when Use of Force guidelines for police have been established by law and the highest court has upheld these laws.  All use of force training is based on that standard. It takes time to adjust our minds to the new rules of engagement especially to a deadly threat. By law, use of force by police is allowed and designed to protect the public and the police from the dangerous actions of unlawful persons who threatens the lives of theirs and others.  We cannot do the job of policing without it.  We must remember that police are given the thankless job to protect their communities at all cost. Our way of life depends on it. 

Expecting police to suddenly re-adjust their use of deadly force because public opinion has suddenly changed is as foolish as expecting a instant cure for Covid 19 because you are infected with the virus.  We are all in the midst of a universal shift of police behaviors. This will take time. The best Public policy always needs a softening period to determine what’s best for all not one.   In the case of use of force this is never more true.

In 2016, I had the opportunity to give a TED Talk entitled The Warrior vs Guardian Police Officer. It articulated the difference in the warrior vs guardian mindset.  A warrior sees the world from a threat based perspective and is constantly ready to react to any threat rather perceived or real.  While a guardian sees the world from a servant mindset and is ready to partner with the community and the citizens to whom they serve.  You can be both.  Problems erupt when a officer overly skews one over the other.  You can watch that TED Talk here.

Unfortunately, the image that has been shown by many of law enforcement is a one-sided  and has jaded public perspective to believe all cops are bad. Are their bad cops? Absolutely! But bad cops must not sway public opinion to believe this is not a noble profession.  In fact, I am more convinced than ever that we as a profession have an obligation to not only share our narrative of what we really do, but to proactively rid our profession of individuals not  willing or capable of meeting the new standards.  I’m proposing an eight-point plan to help create character-community driven cops that understand it is time to change.

A review of the Use of Force Policies. Use of force policies by police should be constantly evaluated and reviewed. Due to the increase in public scrutiny and call for transparency the time is now for a complete review those policies.  

Currently, police agencies base their use of force policies on current law and training.  The standard they are built on is one of what is a reasonable use of force. This is backed by current law and reinforced with training.  I am proposing that we take a hard look at those policies and discuss should we change that to what is necessary? In August of 2019, California, changed their use of force standard to one that is necessary.  This new standard promotes a review of all actions leading to the use of force while promoting de-escalation and crisis intervention methods to induce greater restraint from officers. Using force is  sometimes necessary to arrest and detain certain violators while protecting the lives of the police and the community.  But the time has come to discuss how to ensure that it is only used while meeting the new standards of conduct This will require significant work to change current laws, police  mindset and  culture within our organizations. But Police Leaders must recognize the time is upon us to openly discuss this standard.


Ban All Chokeholds Immediately: I support President Trump’s executive order banning chokeholds unless deadly force is justified. They are simply too dangerous and usually not necessary to use must especially when a subject is already handcuffed.

We Must Clearly Define the Role of Police Within Our Communities. Every municipal, county, state and even federal law enforcement agency must do this. Each must ask what do we want Police to do and expect them to do? Sometimes there is a major disconnect between the two. Over the period of many years we have kept adding more and more responsibilities to Police thus fundamentally changing expectations of what our cops really do. This has over burdened Police with being everything to everybody.  We can not expect the Police to be the answer for all of societal ills.  Our communities must remember that Police are trained to take action and not all of the calls they respond to require immediate action.  Some require time and patience and other community services.  Police can rarely walk away from a situation once called due in part to the oath their swear to uphold, the trust they are given by the community and the potential for harm if they just leave. This often puts the Police in a no win situation. Jurisdictional boundaries, laws and service agreements often determine what specific police agency serves what area. The result is over 18,000 police agencies in the U.S. alone.  This creates a major problem with continuity of service and policing standards.  But the general public usually only sees the police as one unit working together to provide law enforcement services.  This is true in m most cases but also creates 18,000 different standards of what policing really is.  This becomes more evident  when we have a bad cop who does bad things.  We are all judged by their actions.  A more unified understanding of the role of police is needed.  It is impossible to be everything to everybody. Standardizing the role of police should be discussed.

Need for a Cultural Evolution. Next, I believe there is a need for a cultural evolution within all police organizations. We must find a way to train our police officers to be both the Guardian and Warrior. To much emphasis is placed on hard skills that overly skew the warrior mindset.   We should determine a tenement of policing characteristics that we want our officers to uphold.  Such as Character-Duty-Service-Compassion-Emotionally Intelligent to name a few. Most agencies mention these characteristics in their recruitment folders or mission statements but few actually train for them.

New Metrics for Evaluating Officers - Emotionally Intelligent Officers. Selecting and retaining guardian, character-driven cops will require a complete refocus on training of not only new hires but all officers.  The training must be in the soft skills of human behavior.  Emotional Intelligence would be th efoundation I would recommend we build the guardian mindset upon.  Emotional intelligence defined by Daniel Coleman in his Book of the same title: is the ability to manage yourself and your relationship with others.  This is key to helping police officers perform their job functions and responsibilities.  Policing is about People and understanding how to connect with them.  A basic understanding of Emotional Intelligence would be key to moving our organizations forward. 

Fundamental Shift in Police Mindset. Paradigms are our lens in which we view the world, where our Mindset is the set of assumptions and attitude held by us at the present time. Our actions are more often the result of our mindset.  Mindset is a powerful tool that directly influences our actions.  Police must find ways to adjust their mindsets to include that of a guardian. The role of police has shifted as with the dangers of policing.  This shift will not be easy.  over 95% percent of Police officers training is based on the warrior mindset.  We will need to adjust our training and expectations to include the service orientation of the warrior.  This shift should not eliminate the warrior mindset but includes a mixture of both.

Create a National Database of Unfit Cops. Since no chief, deputy chief, captain, sergeant, hiring director actively seeks to hire a bad cop, we must pro-actively address the institutional dysfunctions that prevent the elimination of individuals simply not well-suited for policing. Establishing a national database that would identify problem cops and those with a troubled past would help us stop passing a problem employee agency to agency.

Ability to Rid Departments of Bad Cops and Those Not Able to Transition to Expectations. Department leaders MUST have the ability to rid the profession of individuals not deemed to meet the acceptable standards of performance. I don’t care if you are a 20-year veteran or a 2-week rookie, if you are not measuring up to standards, even after the opportunity to grow and learn, you must be removed.  Police Unions have done many positive things for the men and women in blue, but their biggest detriment, is protecting the bad actors that continue to do harm to policing as a profession. Finding common ground with leadership and unions to agree to rid our profession of bad cops will be essential in moving forward.


In closing, these are some of the key components that need to be considered to accelerate our ability to address the challenges we are facing as law enforcement officers.  We know that 99% of our profession are good people that show up on the job to do their very best every evening. We also know that cultures develop within departments that lead to bad practices and not-so-great routines that ultimately lead to bad department policies being created that result in deaths like George Floyd’s in Minneapolis. Rather than completely destroying and dismantling the profession that has created the safe conditions America has come to enjoy. We must adopt proactive policy changes that define who we truly are and need to be.


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